Residents living in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are opposing the governor’s plan to spend $17 billion on two massive tunnels to send more water to Southern California. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press File Photo)
Two federal agencies’ decision Monday to green-light construction of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta twin-tunnels plan is an unwelcome setback for opponents of the project. But it’s not the huge milestone that proponents are claiming.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opinion merely said that building the tunnels “doesn’t deepen any harm” to several endangered species. “Deepen” is the key here. In effect, they’re saying that the impact of taking too much water out of the Delta in recent years has been so detrimental that building the tunnels won’t make much difference.
Pardon us for not celebrating the news.
The so-called California WaterFix is a $17 billion plan to build two four-story-high tunnels under the Delta capable of moving enough water south to fill 8,000 Olympic-size swimming pools every day. It’s a water grab, pure and simple, by the Central Valley and Los Angeles areas.
The tunnels must not be built at the expense of the health of the Delta.
It’s important to note that the latest opinion doesn’t include the expected scientific analysis of the environmental damage of actually moving additional water through the tunnels if they’re constructed and put into operation. South Bay and East Bay residents and businesses should be laser-focused on that. They are dependent on the health of the Delta ecosystem for their supply of fresh water.
Scientists have repeatedly said that the only way to ensure the future health of the Delta is to allow more water to flow through it, not take more out of it.
The expected report on the tunnels’ effect on water flow is still months away. Yet the water districts expected to pay for the project are expected to vote in September on whether to fully commit to funding the tunnels, without that crucial information.
We can see why the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Westlands Water District in the Central Valley would vote to approve. They would only need to be convinced that they would get the vast quantities of additional water to justify paying the billions they will pay in costs. Their investment in the health of the Delta is secondary to their desire for Sacramento River water.
A vote to approve funding the tunnels by the Santa Clara Valley Water District without knowing the impact of the tunnels taking more water from the Delta is incomprehensible, however. Compromising the Delta’s health is not in the Bay Area’s interests.
Even more unnerving is the open-ended commitment of ratepayer dollars. Buying in means ratepayers would be responsible for cost overruns — and state projects are not known for meeting budgets. Note high-speed rail.
In Boston, the “Big Dig” tunnel price ballooned from an expected $2.4 billion to $15 billion.
Stop the Delta tunnel folly. California can meet its water needs and save the Delta with more conservation, recycling and underground and above-ground storage, where it is environmentally and economically sound.